It's National Engineers Week, or eWeek, for short, and there's no better way to celebrate this week of recognition than to sit down with the organizers of the event itself, DiscoverE. Engineering Influence sat down with Thea Sahr, DiscoverE's Director of Communications and Programs to talk about the week, the events happening across the country and how eWeek has grown into a year long celebration of engineering.


Host: Welcome back once again to ACEC's Engineering Influence podcast. I'm your host, Alan Crockett, Director of Member Communications and it's Eweek, everywhere around here at ACEC and throughout a lot of places in the US this week. And as a result, we are very, very honored and pleased to have Ms. Thea Sahr. She's the DiscoverE Director of Communications and Programs, that has a lot to do with all the activities that are going on in celebration of Engineering Week. Thea, welcome to Engineering Influence podcast.

Thea: Thanks Alan. I'm really happy to be here.

Host: Well I know this is a busy busy time for you. Is this like Christmas season for a DiscoverE?

Thea: Oh, it sure is. It sure is. You know, you work year round, getting ready, getting all the materials, all the resources together, and then you kind of watch what everyone around the country does to be pioneers of progress and really engage kids and celebrate all the wonderful things that engineers are doing. One of my favorite things to do during Engineer's Week is to Google Engineer's Week 2020 (#eWeek2020) and just see everything that people are doing. It's really incredible.

Host: Well, that's a very interesting because I think a lot of people don't realize that Engineering Week celebrations are throughout the next year.

Thea: You're right.

Host: We're at the beginning and and we've got a whole week worth of activities planned. What so how things are going so far?

Thea: Things are going great. You know, across the country on engineering universities at college campuses, their celebrations lots of small and medium sized engineering firms are going out there, volunteering with their local schools. Some of our larger corporations are doing multiple events around the country, but it's really individuals out there, people who say, you know, this week I'm going to go into my kids' school, or this week I'm gonna work and find an organization that I can partner with. And you know, while we call it Engineer's Week, it's really a 365 year round mindset of, you know, just taking a moment, volunteering, going out there, talking to a child about what engineering is. Cause sometimes we forget that you know, us an engineering community, we know a lot of engineers. We know what engineers do. Most Americans don't know what engineers or technicians do. They've never met one. They don't run across them in their daily lives. So and we know that role modeling and telling kids what's involved in engineering is one of the first and best ways to engage kids and get them excited.

Host: Well, we have, you know, ACEC represents more than 5,200 individual engineering firms throughout the nation. And it's always a pleasure to just see all the activities that our member firms are engaged in. And I remember organizations to celebrate the the importance of, of engineers and engineering overall. So tell me a little bit about yourself. How long have you been involved with the discovery?

Thea: I've been involved with DiscoverE for nine years. But before that, I mean, I've been an employee of discovery for nine years, but I've been an Engineer's Week volunteer and advocate for the last 20 years. I was at a PBS station in Boston and we created Design Squad and Engineer Your Life. So I've been working to engage kids in engineering for a long time. And yeah, and what I like about it is we really think that engineering is the gateway to math and science. You know, that that's that hands on problem solving you get the kids hooked that way and then all of a sudden they're going to be like, Oh, if I know math and science, if I know those concepts, then my, you know, my catapult or my lever or whatever they're working on or whatever problem they're trying to solve, they'll go and look for the science and then it becomes real. And then, you know, engineers and engineering can really answer that "so what" question for kids?

Host: Well it sounds like, you know, these programs also help take the fear of mathematics out of the equation and brings it back to a more realistic, a realistic plane for, for kids who are curious and wondering what to do and how things work. I was scared to death of math coming through school, so that's why I went into words. I can handle words, but math is kinda hard. Well, I know we had we, you know, in, in DC we, we had the big future cities competition yesterday and we got a lot of pictures and some story for that for our blog. Tell me what else is, what are the other big highlights that are coming up through the end of the week, both here and throughout the nation that you guys are focuses on?

Thea: Right, right. Yes. So future cities, our competition for middle school students where we ask them to design and build a city of the future. With 45,000 students from around the world participate and we crowned the world champions yesterday and they're from Indiana, which is very exciting. So that was great. So a big shout out to them and their hard work. And then tomorrow, Thursday the 20th, is introduce a girl to engineering day. So that's a time during seven days to really focus in on girls who may not know about engineering or be engaged in engineering. And you know, we've turned a lot of attention to this area, but there's still a lot of work to be done to kind of bring more girls into the fold. And so we released a report back in December called despite the odds where we looked at why girls choose STEM and why women stay in the field.

Thea: You know, we know all the reasons why they leave, but we were like, what can we learn from why they stay? And what we've found is the importance of role models. You know, volunteers going out there talking to kids, doing hands on engineering activities and, and telling them what engineering is, how engineers solve problems, what those problems are, you know, what are the kinds of fascinating things all of your members and their employees are working on. That's, you know, and there's no magic bullet, right? It's just really getting out there and, and doing the outreach. We know the formula. We just need more people to be doing it. And that's what we love so much about ACEC and your members is that they're so close to their local communities that they're doing that work. And we just want to give a big shout out to everyone and say thank you and keep on keeping on.

Host: Oh, excellent. Excellent. That will bring a smile to a lot of people's faces. And just on a personal note, I've been at ACEC for 17 years and I've been going to you know, the national meetings, the fall conferences and the annual convention twice a year. And I've noticed a difference just in, for example, we would get 800 to a thousand attendees at these conferences and it would be rare back in, you know, 15 years ago, it'd be kind of rare to see a woman engineer. Everybody would notice. It's not rare, it's not rare anymore. And you know, just to dovetail on that, we give numerous scholarships out to engineering students to help them finish and proceed in their educations. And I had noticed that over the years you know, five out of, you know, six out of 10 scholarships that we give out, we'e going to women, we're going to women students. So I think your messages and your your efforts are paying off - women are engineers and it's not a rare thing anymore. And I'm old enough to be able to realize that. So kudos to everybody at DiscoverE. So tell me what does discovery really want to accomplish? What's the overall mission of your organization?

Thea: So we have a dual mission of celebrating engineers and you know, really elevating the field. And, and giving a big, you know, making sure that the world, just how much engineers contribute to, to our way of life and making the world a safer, stronger, better place. Right. That's, you know the work that engineers do is just, is mission critical and it is awesome. And then our second our, our second piece of that pie is really encouraging kids to investigate and explore engineering. We know not every child is going to become an engineer, no one wants that. But if we could give kids the, the tools, the engineering design process, project management, if they take those skillsets, any career, imagine how effective they could be just to kind of break down large problems into bite sized chunks and tackle them and solve them. And, and, and, and bring that kind of mindset. I think would be wonderful. And our big audacious goal is that every child around the world, every year has an engineering experience. You know, cause so many kids just don't know that it exists or it's even a possibility or that they have, you know, that they have the chops for it.

Host: Or the role that engineers play in practically everything that goes on. So.

Thea: Exactly.

Host: So really incredible and worthy, worthy endeavor for sure. You said you'd been there for discovery as you know, working on staff and then, but you said you had volunteered before. What changes have you seen in what DiscoverE offers and, and tries to accomplish over the years? And how have you seen that reflect on the results and the reaction to your efforts?

Thea: Sure. I think, you know like all good engineering organizations has been an iterative learning process, right? Try something or put it out there, what works, how can we make it better? How can we make it better? And we look at the evolution of the resources that we offer the training that we offer. We're continually saying, okay, you know, what's resonating with the kids, what messages can we share? What hands on activities can we share, what's working? And then just, you know, constantly improve the resources and the delivery mechanisms that we have, you know, as technology changes, can we take advantage of of community, you know, ways to communicate to reach more students. You know, if you're in a rural area, can we try a webinar, you know, a webcast bringing on an engineer right into your classroom electronically.

Thea: So I think, you know, we're always willing to try new things. And I think that the volunteers out there working with kids are a lot more, and sophisticated is not quite the right word, but they've been doing it a long time. They know what works. And so it's really listening to all our wonderful volunteers out there and responding to what they're asking for, what resources they need. You know, cause we can't, we're a tiny staff of six people. So how do we support the work of 50,000 volunteers out there reaching a million kids? So I think that's just kind of our constant thinking is, what do you guys need? What do you gals need and how can we help you?

Host: Yeah. Well, you know, I think one of the one of the benefits also that I had discovered when, when preparing communications for the upcoming Engineers Week I went to the DiscoverE website and, and you guys provide all kinds of ideas and, and, and, and pointers for activities to further on your mission that I believe a lot of our member firms who, and I've talked to a few, they want to do something but they just don't know quite what to do. What's the best way to go about it? I think going to your website would be would be a great thought starter on PRI trying to, you know, basically pitch in and do our part as an industry.

Thea: Well definitely we have a right on our homepage. You can download the ultimate how to guide. In four pages it outlines for you what you can do to engage a child in engineering. And there's really simple steps and then it takes you to all the other resources. But we have an extensive library of activities. We have an extensive library of how, you know, messages that you can share with kids. And like some people are like, I don't even know how to reach out to my school. I have a cheat sheet of what you can say and, and and who you should ask for when you call the school. So, you know, how do you arrange a classroom visit? So, and then videos of engineers. And then we have an extensive section on engineering careers, so you can send kids who might be interested in engineering to our website. So it's all there. DiscoverE with an E dot org. I hope folks will visit us

Host: I'm pretty sure they will. I know you're very busy lady. You getting ready to head back to Boston. So good luck to you. Thank you for sharing a few minutes with us this morning. And good luck to the entire, for the rest of the week of all the activities you guys have your hands on and we'll see you again next time.

Thea: Yeah, thank you and thanks to all the pioneers of progress out there, all of your engineers, your technicians who are, who are, you know, doing such great work to make my life easier and safer. I really appreciate it.

Host: Okay, thanks Thea and have a good day and we'll see you on the next one. Enjoy.

Thea: Okay. Bye. Bye.

Host: Once again, that was Thea Sahr, Director of Communications for DiscoverE, which basically coordinates all the eWeek and Engineering Week activities that just don't occur once a week. There are ongoing throughout the year program and activities and knowledge and awareness and seminars and they obviously do an excellent job. So thank you for joining us today. My name is Alan Crockett, once again, Director of Member Communications and we'll see you on the next side. Enjoy.

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